February 18, 2011
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
D.C., SR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF D.C., JR., A MINOR.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-82-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: February 3, 2011
Before Judges Axelrad, R. B. Coleman, and J. N. Harris.
D.C., Sr., the biological father of D.C., Jr. (Junior), appeals from an August 20, 2009 Family Part judgment terminating his parental rights to his then six and one-half year old son and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for the purpose of effectuating Junior's adoption.*fn1 On appeal, D.C., Sr. argues DYFS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the statutory prongs required to establish that Junior's best interests required severance of his parental ties. We note that the Law Guardian supports termination of D.C., Sr.'s parental rights to his son.
After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 603 (2006). We affirm.
We need not describe in detail the many facts the trial court considered. We instead provide a brief summary of the cogent facts we considered in concluding the judge's findings were well-supported by the evidence.
The following testimony and evidence were presented during the nine-day trial commencing in January 2009, and concluding in June 2009. DYFS presented the factual testimony of Mildred Alvarez, the family's current caseworker, and Judy Palumbo, a DYFS supervisor. It also presented the expert testimony of Alison Strasser Winston, Ph.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of D.C., Sr. and bonding evaluations of D.C., Sr. and the foster mother with Junior, and Anthony D'Urso, Psy.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of Junior. D.C., Sr. testified on his own behalf and presented the expert testimony of James R. Reynolds, Ph.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of him and a bonding evaluation of him and his son. He also presented the testimony of his mother, L.C., and K.H., his brother's former girlfriend.
Junior was born on January 1, 2003. A year later, when DYFS first became involved with the family, he was living with his mother in a shelter. She was on the verge of being evicted for drug use and not abiding by shelter rules. D.C., Sr. had already been ordered to leave for failing to make curfew, and had moved in with his mother, L.C. In mid-February, L.C. ordered her son to leave her residence and, because both parents were homeless, they agreed to place Junior with her.
Around that time, D.C., Sr. failed to comply with instructions from a DYFS caseworker to take his ailing son to the doctor. The caseworker made the appointment and required D.C., Sr. to attend with her. D.C., Sr. was unable to accurately describe his son's symptoms or medical history to the doctor. He also stated he had given the child an unknown dose of baby Tylenol, which he believed to be an antibiotic, everyday for the past two weeks. Accordingly, the pediatrician urged the caseworker to have DYFS supervise the situation.
Dr. Utica, who performed a psychological evaluation of D.C., Sr., found he was exceedingly immature, impressionistic, and struggling with gender identity issues. Furthermore, D.C., Sr. was not capable of maintaining housing or employment, and was not sufficiently emotionally stable to assume primary responsibility for his son. Dr. Utica recommended D.C., Sr. have only supervised visitation with his son and receive psychological treatment and parenting skills classes.
On March 1, 2004, L.C. offered to become her grandson's foster parent. She was employed as a teacher and owned her own home. DYFS obtained physical and legal custody of Junior and continued his placement with L.C. D.C., Sr. was only permitted supervised visitation with his son. Over the next year, D.C., Sr. was hospitalized and participated in outpatient therapy sessions pertaining to mental health issues.
In February and March of 2005, he met with Kenneth Schulman, Ph.D., for a court-ordered psychological evaluation. D.C., Sr. advised he had not worked since the summer of 2004, and had been living with friends and relatives for the past year. He admitted to having auditory hallucinations, for which he had been prescribed medicine, but otherwise appeared to Dr. Schulman to be "faking good," i.e., hiding his negative characteristics. Dr. Schulman found D.C., Sr.'s personality was obsessive-compulsive, histrionic and narcissistic. He was also emotionally immature and unable to withstand normal levels of stress, resulting in a low frustration tolerance and poor impulse control, and was susceptible to becoming anxious, depressed, listless and discouraged. Accordingly, Dr. Schulman concluded D.C., Sr. was not currently capable of effectively parenting and was not likely to become capable in the foreseeable future. The psychologist recommended D.C., Sr. only be allowed supervised visitation with his son.
On August 4, 2005, the court entered an order appointing L.C. as her grandson's legal guardian, with D.C., Sr.'s consent. A condition of the guardianship was that D.C., Sr. have only supervised visitation with his son. DYFS subsequently terminated its involvement with the family.
D.C., Sr. continued to have auditory hallucinations; as a result he was involuntarily committed in October 2005 and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At some point in 2006, he moved in with L.C. and his son.
On January 17, 2007, DYFS received a referral from a Garfield Police Officer who had been summoned to Junior's daycare center. Staff had informed the officer they had not seen L.C. since mid-November and had been unable to reach her. They had also been advised by L.C.'s employer that she was on extended leave. They had grown concerned when Junior began coming to school looking disheveled and, on at least one occasion, without a proper lunch, and upon noticing that A.C., a paternal uncle, had been consistently dropping him off and picking him up. Junior had also arrived at school with a three-or four-inch long scratch on his stomach, and told varying stories about how he had been injured, first stating he fell and then claiming his father had hit him with a stick, which story he also later recanted. Junior also told daycare staff he was now living with his father.
A.C. divulged to the caseworker that L.C. was in the Dominican Republic but refused to reveal anything else. Accordingly, DYFS took custody of Junior and placed him in the care of his current foster mother. D.C., Sr. told the caseworker he had been living at his mother's home for quite some time and he, not L.C., had been caring for his son since November 30, 2006. He explained that his son had sustained the cut to his stomach when he fell off the toilet and into a medicine cabinet that was sitting on the floor pending installation. D.C., Sr. also confirmed that L.C. was in the Dominican Republic, but stated he did not have any contact information for her and did not know why she was there. Accordingly, on February 15, 2007, the court vacated the prior guardianship order because L.C. had allowed unsupervised contact between Junior and his father.
K.H., who was residing in a small apartment with her and A.C.'s three-year-old daughter, receiving public assistance, and attending school full-time, was ruled out by DYFS as a potential caretaker. The apparent reason was because of domestic violence that had occurred in the past between her and A.C.
Between February and June 2007, D.C., Sr. failed to attend seven out of twelve visitations. In March, he appeared for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. He represented he had resolved his gender identity issues, and while he still viewed himself as a women trapped in a man's body, he no longer took hormones or wanted to have a sex-change operation. He also admitted to feeling depressed his whole life, frequently hearing voices, feeling paranoid, and experiencing anxiety when alone in crowded public places. D.C., Sr. also acknowledged he had previously abused marijuana and had taken ecstasy. Dr. Sonia Oquendo diagnosed D.C., Sr. as having an untreatable and persistent gender identity disorder with repeated identity crises, depression with psychosis, poor self-esteem, impulsivity, emotional unpredictability, and serious problems with interpersonal skills. The psychiatrist was of the opinion these recurring problems were likely to interfere with D.C., Sr.'s ability to adequately parent his son by himself. However, because she believed any custody plan should provide for extensive contact between the two, she recommended returning Junior to L.C.
Dr. Schulman's psychological re-evaluation in March 2007 produced similar diagnoses. He still was of the opinion D.C., Sr. "faked good" in completing standardized tests to present his own personality and relationship with his son in a good light. The psychologist was concerned that D.C., Sr. had not complied with his recommendations in 2005, other than having seen a psychiatrist for medication.
In April 2007, DYFS learned L.C. was not in the Dominican Republic as reported, but instead was convicted of a third charge of driving while intoxicated on November 30, 2006, and was incarcerated until April 6, 2007. Two months later the agency also became aware that D.C., Sr. had been arrested on an outstanding warrant issued by Arizona in 2001. Apparently, while on vacation, twenty pounds of marijuana had been discovered in his suitcase just before he was to board a plane back to New Jersey. When D.C., Sr. was released on bail, he fled the state. After being returned to Arizona, D.C., Sr. was sentenced to eighteen months in prison on October 4, 2007. While in prison, D.C., Sr. presented with persecutory delusions and unclear thinking, appeared to be a threat to himself, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ordered to take monthly injections of Haldol.
Around that time, Junior became aggressive in school and began acting out in his foster home. L.C. was ruled out as a caretaker for Junior because she had failed to inform the agency of her incarceration and had neglected Junior by leaving him with D.C., Sr., who had previously been deemed unfit.
On December 28, 2007, DYFS filed an order to show cause and verified complaint for guardianship of Junior. After D.C., Sr.'s release from prison, he moved back in with L.C. and intermittently attended supervised visitation.
During D.C., Sr.'s psychological evaluation with Dr. Strasser Winston in November 2008, he continued to minimize prior substance abuse and mental health issues and appeared satisfied with himself, thus reducing his motivation for treatment. The psychologist was persuaded D.C., Sr. possessed basic parenting knowledge, but his actual parenting capacity was suspect in view of his history of gender identity issues, numerous psychiatric illnesses, inadequate coping skills, poor judgment, and noncompliance with psychotherapy. Dr. Strasser Winston concluded it was unlikely D.C., Sr. was capable of providing a stable environment for his son at that time or in the foreseeable future.
Based on the bonding evaluation, Dr. Strasser Winston found Junior had an equally strong bond with his father as with his foster mother. She was of the opinion that, if separated from his father, Junior would experience grief but his foster mother would be capable of helping him overcome the loss. In contrast, she found if Junior were separated from his foster mother, D.C., Sr. would not be able to assist him in coping since he did not comprehend the trauma of such removal. It was also unlikely, based on D.C., Sr.'s own noncompliance, that he would facilitate psychotherapy for his son. DYFS' expert opined that if reunification with D.C., Sr. failed and another removal were required, Junior's emotional functioning would likely be impaired.
Dr. Reynolds, the defense expert, performed psychological and bonding evaluations in January 2009. Defendant again denied the existence of his reported mental health and substance abuse histories, which raised questions to the psychologist about D.C., Sr.'s personal insight, judgment, and parental fitness. D.C., Sr. remained unemployed and was without his own residence. Dr. Reynolds conceded D.C., Sr.'s parenting skills might be compromised by his actual psychological functioning and lack of appreciation for the necessity of therapy. The defense psychologist concluded, however, that D.C., Sr. "may" be an appropriate candidate to be "eventually" reunified with his son based on his adequate parenting skills and close bond with him.
Around that time, D.C., Sr. acknowledged to another psychologist that he was experiencing persecutory delusions and other non-command auditory hallucinations. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a gender identity disorder and was referred for a psychiatric evaluation for medical management. D.C., Sr., however, did not follow through with this recommendation.
The trial began on January 21, 2009. D.C., Sr. disappeared about a month later and did not contact anyone for four weeks. He claimed he had gone to Arizona to get an injection of Haldol at a walk-in clinic he had previously frequented while incarcerated in Arizona.
Just prior to his father's departure, Junior was hospitalized after demonstrating hyperactive, defiant, and aggressive behaviors, and also claiming to hear voices. An April 9, 2009 psychological evaluation by Dr. D'Urso revealed Junior was hyperactive and impulsive, but not psychotic. The psychologist believed Junior was suffering from separation anxiety brought on by general insecurity as a result of his placement in foster care and inconsistent visitation with his father. According to Dr. D'Urso, Junior was classified as having an emotional disability, with attendant behavioral difficulties and marked neurological problems. The psychologist recommended therapy and a psychiatric evaluation to determine if medication was necessary.
In May 2009, D.C., Sr. advised a psychiatrist he was regularly experiencing non-command auditory and visual hallucinations. He also disclosed he had been feeling increasingly depressed, hopeless, and helpless. D.C., Sr. was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and prescribed medication.
D.C., Sr. testified at trial, variously admitting and denying he suffered from schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations, social anxiety disorder, and other psychological problems in the past or currently. He denied ever having used marijuana or ecstasy. Although D.C., Sr. repeatedly insisted he had regularly received therapy over the years, he ultimately admitted that nearly all of his appointments simply had been with a psychiatrist for medication monitoring. He acknowledged he was not presently working and had only ever worked sporadically at part-time or temporary jobs.
On April 29, 2009, DYFS sent K.H. a rule-out letter based on the conclusion it would be best for Junior to remain in his current placement, which had been stable for the past two years. It noted that Junior shared a strong bond with his foster family, and moving him would be detrimental to his well-being. K.H. testified at trial that she was still willing to care for Junior. She claimed her volatile relationship with A.C. was over, although she confirmed she was currently pregnant with his second child.
Based on this record and after observing the demeanor and impartially assessing the credibility of the lay and expert witnesses, examining the exhibits entered into evidence, and hearing arguments of counsel, Judge John Conte concluded the best interests of Junior required severance of D.C., Sr.'s parental ties. In a comprehensive written opinion of August 20, 2009, the judge recited the factual and procedural history of the case, made findings of fact and credibility assessments in favor of DYFS' witnesses, noted the applicable law, and found DYFS had established by clear and convincing evidence the four-prong test for termination of parental rights as set forth in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-10 (1986), and codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. The determination was memorialized in a judgment of guardianship. This appeal ensued.
We begin by noting some basic principles. The scope of our review of a trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is limited. In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 472 (2002). We also have a limited scope of review of the Family Part's factual findings. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2007). In reviewing the factual findings and conclusions of a trial court, we are obliged to accord deference to the trial judge's credibility determinations and the judge's "feel of the case" based upon the opportunity of the judge to see and hear the witnesses. A.R.G., supra, 361 N.J. Super. at 78 (citing Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998); Pascale v. Pascale, 113 N.J. 20, 33 (1988)). "When the credibility of witnesses is an important factor, the trial court's conclusions must be given great weight and must be accepted by the appellate court unless clearly lacking in reasonable support." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. F.M., 375 N.J. Super. 235, 259 (App. Div. 2005) (citing In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365, 382 (1999)). We rely upon the trial court's acceptance of the credibility of the expert testimony and the court's fact-findings based thereon, as it is in a better position to evaluate the witness' credibility, qualifications, and the weight to be accorded to the expert's testimony. Ibid.; see also In re Guardianship of J.C., 129 N.J. 1, 22 (1992).
We are not to disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless they are "so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974) (citation omitted). Additionally, because of the family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding and the conclusions which flow logically from those findings of fact. Cesare, supra, 154 N.J. at 412-13; M.M., supra, 189 N.J. at 279. Reversal is required only in those circumstances in which the trial court's findings were "so wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made." M.M., supra, 189 N.J. at 279 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Applying this standard, we discern ample evidence in the record supporting the judge's conclusion that Junior's best interests required termination of D.C., Sr.'s parental rights.
The applicable principles are well settled. "Parents have a constitutionally protected, fundamental liberty interest in raising their biological children." In re Adoption of a Child by W.P. & M.P., 308 N.J. Super. 376, 382 (App. Div. l998) (citing Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S. Ct. 1388, 1394-95, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 606 (1982)), vacated on other grounds, 163 N.J. 158 (2000). "The Federal and State Constitutions protect the inviolability of the family unit." W.P. & M.P., supra, 308 N.J. Super. at 382 (citing Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S. Ct. 1208, 1212-13, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551, 558-59 (1972)). However, government "is not without constitutional control over parental discretion in dealing with children when their physical or mental health is jeopardized." Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 603, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 2504, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 119 (1979) (citing Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 230, 92 S. Ct. 1526, 1540, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 33 (1972)). The State, as parens patriae, may sever the parent-child relationship to protect the child from serious physical and emotional injury. W.P. & M.P., supra, 308 N.J. Super. at 382.
When the child's biological parent resists termination of parental rights, it is the court's function to decide whether the parent can raise the child without causing harm. J.C., supra, 129 N.J. at 10. The cornerstone of our inquiry is not whether the parent is fit, but whether the parent can become fit to assume the parental role in time to meet the child's needs. Ibid. (citing A.W., supra, 103 N.J. at 607). "The analysis . . . entails strict standards to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of the natural parents." J.C., supra, 129 N.J. at 10. "The burden rests on the party seeking to terminate parental rights 'to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence' that risk of 'serious and lasting [future] harm to the child' is sufficiently great as to require severance of the parental ties." W.P. & M.P., supra, 308 N.J. Super. at 383 (alteration in original) (quoting J.C., supra, 129 N.J. at 10).
The question for the court "focuses upon what course serves the 'best interests' of the child." W.P. & M.P., supra, 308 N.J. Super. at 383. The State Constitution and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c) and 15.1(a) require satisfaction of the "best interests of the child" test by clear and convincing evidence before termination of parental rights can occur. See A.W., supra, 103 N.J. at 612; In re Guardianship of Jordan, 336 N.J. Super. 270, 274 (App. Div. 2001). Specifically, the four-prong test set forth in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) requires DYFS to prove:
(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family [formerly referred to as "foster"] parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;
(3) The [D]ivision has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and
(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.
These criteria are neither discrete nor separate. In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 348 (1999). They overlap to provide a composite picture of what may be necessary to advance the best interests of the child. Ibid. "The considerations involved in determinations of parental fitness are 'extremely fact sensitive' and require particularized evidence that address the specific circumstances in the given case." Ibid. (quoting In re Adoption of Children by L.A.S., 134 N.J. 127, 139 (1993)).
Our examination of the record discloses all four prongs of the statutory test have been met by clear and convincing evidence. The judge made an express credibility assessment against D.C., Sr., stating:
[D.C., Sr.,] presented himself on the stand as being evasive, contradictory, short[-]tempered, and incredulous at times.
There were too many questions for which his answer was not straight-forward, for example, regarding his income, disability, mental health, employment, and like areas of his background, he was non-responsive in court and to his doctors. These answers strain his credibility.
The first prong involves an inquiry into whether there has been an "endanger[ing] of the child's health and development resulting from the parental relationship[,]" and whether there will be future harm to the child's safety, health, or development if the parental relationship is not terminated. K.H.O., supra, 161 N.J. at 348. The focus of the inquiry is not necessarily on a "single or isolated harm or past harm," but rather on "the effect of harms arising from the parent-child relationship over time on the child's health and development." Ibid.
The facts, as found by the trial judge from credible evidence, reveal D.C., Sr. suffered from significant and persistent mental health problems. According to Drs. Strasser Winston and Schulman, D.C., Sr.'s impulsivity and emotional unpredictability, as well as his depression, psychosis and paranoia, had and would continue to interfere with his capacity to independently and effectively parent his son. Even defense expert Dr. Reynolds agreed D.C., Sr. showed no insight into the impact his psychiatric difficulties would have on his parenting abilities. Because of these deficits, D.C., Sr. had failed to provide proper medical care to his son in February 2004, and had failed to properly supervise and allegedly struck his son in January 2007. D.C., Sr. had also proved incapable of securing independent housing and consistent employment. Furthermore, his criminal activities had resulted in a lengthy separation from his son. Based on the medical evidence and D.C., Sr.'s failure to testify in a straightforward manner, the court was persuaded DYFS had presented clear and convincing evidence satisfying prong one.
There is no merit to D.C., Sr.'s challenge on appeal that Judge Conte improperly relied on outdated reports, went out of his way to portray him in the worst possible light, ignored positive findings, and disregarded the defense expert's testimony that supported placing Junior with his father. According to D.C., Sr., DYFS failed to present any proof he had or would harm his son.
The record is replete with reports and evaluations confirming D.C., Sr.'s longstanding, significant mental health problems. The court was entitled to consider the evaluations conducted between 2003 and 2005, which, rather than being stale, were markedly similar to the evaluations completed between 2007 and 2009, and documented the persistent nature of D.C., Sr.'s problems. In the past, these problems resulted in Junior's being exposed to homelessness, denied competent medical care, and injured due to lack of proper supervision. Although D.C., Sr. may presently possess adequate parenting skills, they cannot compensate for his failure to demonstrate an ability to independently provide a safe and stable home environment for his son and assume the responsibility of complying with psychotherapy and other treatment to address his mental health problems.
The second prong contemplates the determination of parental unfitness. DYFS must prove the harm is likely to continue as a direct result of the parent's unwillingness or inability to eliminate the harm that had endangered the child's health and development or the parent has failed to provide a "safe and stable home for the child" and a "delay in securing permanency" will further harm the child. Id. at 348-49. As properly noted by Judge Conte, the record amply reflects D.C., Sr.'s ongoing psychiatric problems and noncompliance with treatment. D.C., Sr.'s inability to face his responsibilities was also reflected in his decision to remain a fugitive from the law for six years. As a result of D.C., Sr.'s dereliction, Junior spent nearly three years in foster care and developed a strong bond with his foster mother, which would now be difficult to break.
The third prong requires DYFS to make "reasonable efforts" to assist the parents in correcting or eliminating the circumstances that caused the harm and consider alternatives to termination. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(3). It is undisputed DYFS provided D.C., Sr. with a myriad of services such as parenting skills training, substance abuse screenings, psychological and psychiatric evaluations, and visitation with his son. D.C., Sr. had also been offered treatment in accordance with the recommendations made by the various psychiatrists and psychologists, to no avail.
Consonant with its directive, DYFS had initially tried to keep the family intact by successfully petitioning the court to appoint L.C. as her grandson's legal guardian. DYFS was not to blame for the subsequent failure of this arrangement, nor was it responsible for D.C., Sr.'s failure to engage in the therapy deemed essential for reunification.
Lastly, the statute's fourth prong mandates a determination as to "whether a child's interests will best be served by completely terminating the child's relationship with that parent." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 108 (2008). There is ample basis in the record for the judge's finding that the evidence strongly pointed towards termination rather than reunification. Throughout the case, D.C., Sr.'s presentation of himself to medical professionals and in the courtroom was fraught with inconsistency, evasion, denial, belligerence, and convenient memory lapses. From the court's view, D.C., Sr.'s unacknowledged psychological problems fatally undermined any parenting capacity he possessed. As noted by the court, D.C., Sr. had also exhibited exceedingly poor judgment when he decided to become a fugitive in 2001, thereby exacerbating his problems with the law, and secretly departing for a month-long stay in Arizona in the middle of trial, without considering the effect of missed visitation on his son. The judge also noted D.C., Sr. had failed to establish an independent residence and his claims of imminent employment in various fields, such as the fashion industry, had not come to pass.
Contrary to D.C., Sr.'s representations, Dr. Reynolds never gave a ringing endorsement of him as a parent. Rather, the defense psychologist merely testified that, while D.C., Sr. did not appear mentally ill during his evaluation, he could not draw any valid conclusions in this regard because D.C., Sr. was not forthcoming in discussing his medical history and symptoms, and his standardized test results were invalid. Dr. Reynolds actually agreed with Dr. Strasser Winston that D.C., Sr.'s mental health problems could negatively affect his parenting capacity.
In any event, the court was entitled to rely upon Dr. Strasser Winston's opinion that, regardless of D.C., Sr.'s strong bond with his son, his significant and unaddressed psychiatric problems rendered him incapable of independently serving as his son's primary caretaker now or in the foreseeable future. The court was also entitled to find, again in accordance with Dr. Strasser Winston's testimony, that Junior's equally strong bond with his foster mother, coupled with her superior ability to address Junior's emotional needs, would help him avoid lasting harm from the severance of D.C., Sr.'s parental rights. The foster mother also expressed an intent to adopt Junior, further evidencing the love and stability offered by his current placement. D.C., Sr., by contrast, was not capable of addressing his own needs, let alone the special needs of his emotionally fragile child.
Although D.C., Sr. may love his son, we are convinced he is unable to provide a safe, stable and permanent home that the child so desperately needs. As we concluded in In re Guardianship of A.R.G., 318 N.J. Super. 323, 330, (App. Div.), certif. denied, 162 N.J. 127 (1999), where there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support termination of parental rights, there is no reason to delay permanent resolution. Children cannot afford to wait until such time as their parent might possibly be able to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for them. The trial court properly concluded that termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good to Junior as it will free him for adoption by his foster mother who can provide permanency and stability.